Where we’re at: I’m sharing my journey in 2022, including this trip to Jordan in February.
One week into my time in tiny Jordan, I started to understand the brilliance of Globus Travel’s plan to end our trip at the Dead Sea.
After a few days traversing the bustling, hilly city of Amman, then jetting down to bounce around in the back of a pickup truck through the otherworldly Wadi Rum desert, then clocking twelve miles exploring the grand, ancient city of Petra, this body was never in greater need of the healing powers of a Dead Sea soak.
We took the scenic route to get there. As a retreat leader myself, I could fill an inspiration-quote-covered journal with my reflections on why group travel can be transformative. One I was reminded of, as we made the long journey from Wadi Musa back north towards the Dead Sea, was that it can often push you to try things outside your comfort zone, or visit sites you wouldn’t have put on your own itinerary.
We stopped for lunch and a leg stretch at historic Al-Karak, built in 1132 A.D, where I admit the Crusades era history made me wince. History can be brutal, though I suppose too can be the present.
I do believe that learning about the brutalities of the past is key to not recreating those mistakes in the future, but this era of war-addled history has never really captivated me, and I’m squeamish, so I struggled not to tune out here.
Our next stop was much more palatable — an inspiring sunset view at Jordan’s very own Grand Canyon! The gorge, formed over 20,000 years ago, was created by the receding Dead Sea.
Also in this area and part of the impressive canyon is Wadi Mujib, a watery passage-way popular with adventure travelers. Though sadly for me, it was still closed for the winter, I was super excited for my Wander Women Retreat guests to explore it a few months later.
We were a bit delayed in our journey, and watched the sunset from the winding road down to the sea rather than with a cocktail in hand. Luckily, there was time for that tomorrow. And we still had an aha moment ahead — checking into the beautiful Movenpick Dead Sea.
We toasted to our final stop with a lovely dinner at one of the behemoth resort’s several restaurants and smiled at an enthusiastic belly dancing show before heading off to bed.
The next morning, the final day of the official tour, I circled back to that “comfort zone” stretching idea. Knowing the itinerary was jam-packed with biblical sites, our group leaders suggested that we consider the day optional, and stay back and enjoy the Dead Sea and the hotel’s amenities if that called to us more.
I almost took them up on it. But I’m truly glad I didn’t.
No matter your beliefs, sites like these and the stories that took place here changed the world. I was raised Protestant, and so the stories of the Bible are distantly familiar. They came back to life, however, with the help of Rustom Mkhjian, the director of Bethany Beyond the Jordan and guardian, if you will, of Jordan’s believed baptismal site of Jesus (let’s just say, unsurprisingly, it’s a point of some contention.)
But rather than get bogged down in exact geographical coordinates, I allowed myself to be swept away in the message of love and peace that Rustom shared. This holy Christian site, he shared, was one that for centuries was protected by Muslims. And these are labels most Jordanians didn’t think much of, he claims, before the world changed on September 11th, 2001.
After a short walk along the Jordan River, some of our group went down to touch the water many historians believe Jesus was baptized in, and which the Pope himself has visited.
I watched from a respectful distance, but then found myself unexpectedly moved to tears at our next stop: the river’s narrow passing to Israel.
At that point it had been two brutal years, almost to the day, of fighting bureaucracy trying to receive permission to re-enter Israel, my once flourishing relationship chipped away at with each rejection. I stood there, and saw, for the first time in twenty-four months, this place that changed my life — and I wept.
That slow moving river was just a preview of the tidal wave of emotions I’d feel crossing the border a few days later.
Wiping my tears and having a heart to heart with someone I’d met in person just days earlier, the way only travel can make you do, we made our way to Ancient Madaba. Jordan is 96% Muslim and 4% Christian, with Madaba being the prominent Christian community.
Yet the city, famed for its mosaics, intrigued the artist in me.
The city’s famous map, the oldest Holy Land map in the world, intrigued the cartographer in me. The map was created in the 6th Century to help pilgrims navigate through modern Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Sinai in Egypt.
At St. George’s Church, I wowed both our guide and myself when I managed to clock that it wasn’t your typical “north at the top” layout by tracking the placement of some of my favorite cities. I guess I do know the Middle East pretty darn well!
At our next stop, the Madaba Archaeological Museum, we escaped a deluge of rain, the first we’d been plagued with the entire trip, and marveled at the well-preserved pieces from several Byzantine churches.
While these are primarily marketed as religious sites, I think art and design lovers will enjoy a stop at Madaba just to soak up the craftsmanship of the incredibly preserved mosaic pieces, theological significance aside.
Likewise, a stop at Mount Nebo may wow even the most atheist of travelers for the view, even if they aren’t too fussed with where Moses saw the promised land.
Like I said, I wouldn’t have come to these spots on my own but actually really enjoyed visiting them in part due to our enigmatic local guide, a Globus exclusive. Plus, I knew it would make my gram happy that I went. Hey Gram!
And let’s face it — a sunset cocktail tastes all the better knowing you truly earned it.
As long time Alex in Wanderland readers already know, The Dead Sea is dying — so resorts must constantly expand to meet the shoreline. Which meant that many, many stairs were involved in our long-awaited dip in Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.
While I’ve visited Israel’s Dead Sea many times and from several access points, the rumors were true — due to the excellent value to be found in Jordan, it was a much more luxurious experience than what I’ve had in Israel. Dead Sea mud was provided in a snazzy ceramic pedestal, lifeguards appeared from nowhere to give you a hand navigating the rocky shore entries, and a freshwater hose and warm towels awaited your exit.
Did I mention the several sea-view infinity pools and the luxury onsite spa?
Having scattered around the resort, our group reunited to toast with sunset cocktails in the hot tub, and enjoy a final farewell dinner together after that. Another huge plus of group travel: the lifelong friends you meet.
As you’ll learn from my next post about entering Israel, after two years of waiting, I had a few more hurdles ahead of me and was delayed a day due to a visa fumble.
Sababa. I stayed put in the Dead Sea and used the time to catch up on work, use the resort’s plush gym, get a luxurious hammam spa treatment, and watch the sunset from my balcony with — you guessed it — one last sendoff mint tea in hand.
So, if you’ve followed along now on all three posts, you might be wondering — should you too travel to Jordan in the low season of winter, from November to March?
You might be shocked by how cold a Middle Eastern winter can be, especially in the high city of Amman, however, the trade off is low crowds and prices. Globus’ Jordan Escape Tours are up to 30% off and feature no single supplement — something they are able to negotiate with local vendors due to their high volume throughout the rest of the year.
Now, y’all know I’m a summer gal — I pretty much like it hot, all the time! So when I was packing and seeing temperatures in the 40s in some cities, honestly I was pretty freaked out. And the truth is I did struggle in Amman, a mountainous city where I found the cold pretty biting, but was relieved when we arrived in Wadi Rum and Petra, and later The Dead Sea, and found much more mild temperatures. I chose not to extend my trip to go to Aqaba after talking to local divers who told me it wasn’t the best time for conditions or visibility. Keeping in mind that I’m essentially a reptile who recharges by laying on a hot rock in the sun, winter was tough for me — but I still fell hard for Jordan.
For those stretching a travel budget, those who cringe at crowds and those who prefer cooler temperatures (I have heard you exist…?) winter may be the perfect time for you.
Me? I’ll be back next summer with Wander Women Retreats. I can’t wait for the next chapter in this budding travel love story.
Thanks for having me, Jordan.